Job Opening: Assistant/Associate Cooperative Extension Educator Urban 4-H
UConn Extension is seeking applicants for a full-time (11-month), non-tenure track Assistant/Associate Extension Educator, primarily based at the Fairfield County Extension Office in Bethel, CT. Extension Educators are community-based faculty who make a difference in communities by connecting community needs with university resources. Position level/rank will be commensurate with experience working with Extension. The successful candidate shall create an active 4-H youth development program with a focus on STEM, food, and agricultural literacy.
More information and application instructions are available at s.uconn.edu/urban4-hposition
#jobs #uconn #youthdevelopment #4h #agriculture #food
Enhancing Food Security in Fairfield County
Food insecurity is not a new phenomenon, but the COVID-19 pandemic intensified the situation for many residents, including those in Fairfield County. Food banks and pantries across the state expanded their services to help the increasing numbers of food insecure families.
The pandemic introduced Heather Peracchio, an Assistant Extension Educator in our Fairfield County office with Lori Turco, the food pantry coordinator for Walnut Hill Community Church. They were introduced by Steve Harding and quickly formed a strong partnership to meet the communities’ needs. Heather works with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and with SNAP-Ed.
The number of families being served by the Walnut Hill Community Pantry increased because of the pandemic from 150 pre-pandemic to over 500 families. The food pantry was offered monthly before the pandemic and then shifted to weekly when the pandemic started. Staff serve three locations: the church in Bethel, Derby and New Milford. They serve over 1,500 families across the three locations from 22 towns. Some families come from as far as Stamford, Torrington, or Waterbury—there is a huge need for food resources.
The partnership between Extension and Walnut Hill Church started with Operation Community Impact— Heather wanted to help food pantries access the milk and dairy products donated by Guida’s and Cabot. Walnut Hill Church was happy to accept the donations and let Extension use their FEMA supplied 40-foot refrigerated trailer for deliveries. The Fairfield County Extension team connected food pantries throughout the area with dairy donations. Team members Edith Valiquette, Donna Liska, Linda Connelly, and the 4-H volunteers that delivered dairy were crucial to the project.
From that initial collaboration, the partnership has grown, and expanded the services offered to the community. “I connected Lori and the Walnut Hill Community Pantry to the Danbury Food Collaborative,” Heather says. “She has used that connection to establish a network of food distributions and Walnut Hill Church has become the main delivery site for all Danbury area USDA Farmers’ to Families Food Boxes. Lori also started a non-profit Community Food Rescue and is planning a Food Hub in Danbury.”
“The partnership with UConn Extension is phenomenal,” Lori says. “The only time we get dairy is in the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box or from Extension. The Extension team organized the dairy donations and facilitated funds. We were able to consistently provide milk for almost 500 families. We could buy more food with the money we have and be able to give fresh milk to everyone.”
Greenhouse Wealth Management, LLC in Westport generously donated $1500 to the effort (photo below). Ryan Callas owns the company and is a UConn alumni. He heard about the initiative through an employee whose cousin lives next door to Heather—and Ryan was happy to get involved because of the UConn ties. The initial donation from Green Wealth Management prompted other donations that further supported Operation Community Impact in Fairfield County.
Extension’s contributions extend beyond facilitating and coordinating the dairy donations for food pantries. Our educators provide resources and connections for many areas of need. For example, Heather makes videos in English and Spanish for each USDA Food Box to help recipients use the items they are receiving.
Heather creates videos where she uses the ingredients in the food boxes in recipes. She then creates a QR code that links to the video to help recipients use the products. “Her videos have friendly, helpful hints and they are bilingual,” Lori says. “It helps make the food stretch further for our families. We put the QR code on our program materials each week for our families. The videos are an amazing tool that she’s created for us.”
Baby food was secured for families, and Heather also connects them to other resources, answers questions on everything from nutrition to expiration dates, and serves as an overall resource for the community.
“UConn Extension has helped us on multiple levels way beyond the dairy donations during Operation Community Impact,”
Lori says. “They gave us laundry cards last week for our families to get laundry done. Heather connected us with birthday bags for our residents too, these have everything a family needs to create a birthday for a family member. I can’t say enough about UConn Extension connecting us with the people we need. We’re extremely thankful for everything we’ve received.”
“Our work with Lori captures the essence of what Extension is,” Heather says. “UConn Extension helped the community, and we also fostered connections related to food security that are sustainable and will have long-term effects on the people living here.”
Article by Stacey Stearns
Job Opening: Urban Agriculture Assistant/Associate Extension Educator
Rising unemployment in the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity for many individuals. In response to our pledge of “hands to larger service,” 4-Hers have joined with members of the Fairfield community to grow produce for local food banks.
As a Fairfield County 4-H senior with interests in natural sciences and community service, I was excited to merge my passions through volunteering at the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks. When I began my first job of leaf removal and planting, I wore my 4-H Fair t-shirt (in addition to a face mask). I soon discovered that the organizer of the project, Sharon Brodeur Pistilli, was a 4-H alumna, formerly of the Bethlehem Busy Stitchers! This connection was no coincidence, as 4-H shapes individuals with a lifelong passion for healthy living and giving back through service.
With Sharon’s energetic leadership, many others have joined the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks Initiative.
Over the past month, the group has planted kale, lettuce, pole beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, eggplant, squash, radishes, and carrots. Sharon Pistilli organized donations of seedlings and gardening supplies. A Fairfield resident graciously offered her garden space. Over a dozen volunteers have helped with weeding, daily watering, and harvesting while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
On June 24, I had the chance to see the culmination of the group’s hard work, with a delivery of four gallon-size bags of fresh lettuce, three bags of kale, and radishes to Operation Hope in Fairfield. Other recipients will include Semilla Collective in New Haven and nOURish Bridgeport, which provide food to clients either in a Community kitchen or food bank capacity.
Volunteering at the garden has brought community to my life at a time when I would have otherwise felt isolated and disconnected. As I dig into soil and place seeds in the ground, I can reconnect with nature and the world around me. Creating a mound around each squash plant, which 4-H Alumna Sharon Pistilli calls a “dirt-hug,” is an opportunity to give my community a hug: to reach out to insecure families and invest both my hands and heart in larger service.
The Fairfield Garden for Food Banks is an example of how the 4-H Program nourishes the individual and fosters community. 4-Hers of multiple generations have partnered with volunteers and food banks, growing fresh produce to respond to a growing need. While apart, we have come together to maintain a garden, and in doing so, nurture our pledges to one another.
Article by Harper Treschuk, Fairfield County 4-H Member
The Lower Fairfield County Master Gardener Program wants to partner with you! Whether you are already a passionate gardener who would like to take your learning to the next level, a beginning gardener in search of a knowledgeable resource, or a community/group with a gardening need, the Master Gardener program is here for you.
The program has been growing strong for more than 40 years. Certified UConn Extension Master Gardeners complete rigorous horticultural training, including both online and classroom education followed by 60 hours of diagnostic Plant Clinic service and volunteer outreach.
Master Gardener (MG) volunteers are popping up everywhere throughout Fairfield county and across the state as they provide leadership, participate in field projects, give presentations and eagerly share their love of gardening while working side-by-side with community volunteers.
A few examples of our partnerships include the blooming Pollinator Pathway project, which started locally and is quickly extending across the Northeast. Many MGs have spearheaded Pollinator Pathway initiatives in their hometown. You can also find MGs at the root of Wakeman Town Farm’s educational programs and as volunteer guides and partners in land management at Farm Creek Nature Preserve.
Come to Plant Clinic so we can help you to weed out your gardening issues. We are available online at this time at lowerfairfieldMG@gmail.com.
Master Gardeners provide their guidance and resources at no charge to the public. As a self-funded UConn Extension program, any donations are appreciated, particularly in these challenging times. Tax deductible donations can be made. Let’s continue to grow together!
Article by: Pat Carroll UConn Extension Master Gardener Coordinator, Lower Fairfield County
Craft Fair and Open House Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program
Date: Saturday, October 6, 2018
(rain date Saturday, October 13)
Time:9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Where: Fairfield County Extension Office and Grounds
67 Stony Hill Road (Route 6), Bethel, Connecticut
The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is celebrating 40 years as the premier example of a Master Gardener Program in the United States with a craft fair and open house. This outdoor event is free and open to the public. Expert Master Gardeners will give tours and demonstrations, and answer gardening questions. Vendors, many showcasing the creative endeavors of our Master Gardeners, will be offering a variety of gardening and nongardening crafts and goods for sale to benefit the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program.
The day will feature:
Tours and demonstrations
Walking tour and talk at the Extension Demonstration Vegetable Garden.
An 80-ft. by 100 ft. Demonstration Vegetable Garden on the Fairfield County Agricultural Extension Center site, built and maintained by Master Gardener mentors and interns, is used to teach the importance of current best practices in gardening and horticulture, and also donates its weekly harvest to local food pantries.
Learn how you can make and maintain your own backyard compost with easy to build bins and a few simple steps.
Invasive Plant Guided Walk
Learn to spot the invasive plants trying to take over Connecticut’s gardens and natural areas. Find out which plants are considered invasive and why, and how they got here. Learn design alternatives for these aggressive invaders.
Meet our Master Gardeners! Get answers to your questions about your gardens, lawns, trees, plants and insects. Learn how you too can become a Master Gardener.
All About Composting
Master Composters answer questions about backyard and worm composting, explain why it is important to reduce the waste sent to landfills, and how individuals and communities benefit from making compost.
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station/UConn Forest Pest Education
Learn about the Asian Long-horned Beetle, Emerald Ash Borer, and how Connecticut is battling these and other threats to our trees and forests.
As of this writing vendors will be offering for sale:
- Vintage costume jewelry
- Natural-dye yarns and scarves
- Alpaca wool and products
- Botanical stationery and notecards
- “White Elephant” table of gardening and other items
- Used gardening books
- A specialty rake
- Tillisandia’s glass globes and fairy gardens
- Painted rock art
- Hand-crafted wooden bowls and other items
- Floral design kits
- Meet the author of Success with Hydrangeas: A Gardener’s Guide Book(B&B Publications, 2017), Connecticut horticulturist, garden writer, speaker and Advance Master Gardener Lorraine Ballato.
- Bid on our Silent Auction gardening and specialty items.
And much more!
The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is an Educational Outreach Program that is part of UConn Extension, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, University of Connecticut. Started in 1978, the program consists of horticulture training and an outreach component that focus on the community at large. Master Gardeners are enthusiastic, willing to learn and share their knowledge and training with others. What sets them apart from other home gardeners is their special horticultural training. In exchange for this training, Master Gardeners commit time as volunteers working through their local UConn Extension Center and the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford to provide horticultural-related information to the community. The staff and volunteers of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program and the UConn Home & Garden Education Center are informational resources for the residents of Connecticut and beyond, who are urged to contact us for accurate, thorough, and timely information on home and garden topics.
The cooperative extension system connected to land-grant universities was established in 1914. Before the 1970s, extension horticulture programs focused on crop production. In the early 1970s Washington State University Extension agents, responding to increased public demand for gardening information through an urban horticulture program, proposed recruiting and training volunteers to respond to gardeners’ questions as a way to serve the needs of home and community gardeners. Although initially met with skepticism, the first Master Gardener training classes were offered to about 200 people in 1973. Today, Master Gardener programs are active in all 50 states, nine Canadian provinces, and in South Korea. According to a 2009 survey, 94,865 Extension Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States contributed 5,197,573 hours educating the public, providing youth programs, and facilitating produce donations to food banks, an estimated contribution of $101.4 million to the public.
The New Year ushered in a new crop of interns aspiring to become certified Master Gardeners. Classes began January 11th. The Bethel and New Haven classes alternate locations each year, and the 2018 class is being held in New Haven County at the Edgerton Park Carriage House. Both the New Haven County and Fairfield County coordinators work together each year facilitating the classes.
This year’s class has 40 students, the majority of whom will be completing their community outreach in New Haven County. However, at least a half dozen or more interns from the class are expected to complete their office internship in the Bethel office and complete their community outreach in Fairfield County.
2018 is the 40th anniversary of the Master Gardener Program in Connecticut. In addition, this is the first year the new hybrid Master Gardener classes are being rolled out. This year, students will be completing a substantial portion of the program online, where they have access to presentations and class materials that can be viewed asynchronously. After they view the week’s assigned material, they come to class, where discussions of the material, hands on activities, and workshops that supplement the material are held. Various activities are led by instructors and coordinators, assisted by certified Master Gardener volunteers.
To date, the new format seems to be working well. Students seem to be accessing the material, taking online quizzes, and coming to class energized ready to participate in discussions on the material and in hands on activities.
Classes are scheduled to run through the end of April, but are subject to an extension if weather creates any issues.
By Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator
Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator, spotlights three of the signature projects that volunteers have been working on:
In November the Master Gardeners were putting the garden to bed for the season. Each year, they analyze what worked and what didn’t in the garden and begin to formulate their plan for next year. The demo garden team decided that the apple and pear trees were too high maintenance and in order to be fruitful would require more inputs than what this low maintenance and organic minded team desired. They removed the trees and will be substituting native paw paws that they hope will thrive with less care and inputs. The irrigation system worked great this year, and the crew made a few additional adjustments to the system to improve its efficiency.
As you know the Master Gardeners donate all the vegetables and herbs it produces to area food banks. In 2016, 656 pounds of produce, plus bundled herbs and flowers were donated to local organizations. In 2017, despite a slow start because of cool weather, the garden ultimately yielded 755 pounds of produce! The following organizations received donations during the season: Newtown Social Services, and the Faith Food Pantry in Newtown, The Brookfield Pantry, Friends of Brookfield Seniors, and the St James Daily Bread Pantry in Brookfield, and the Salvation Army in Danbury. This garden is not only a beautiful example of a working and productive vegetable garden, it is also used as a teaching tool for the community. Every Saturday, docent led tours are given to the public, who frequent the Farmer’s Market also held on the grounds. Master Gardeners teach Integrated Pest Management practices, cultural techniques, and other sustainable practices to visitors.
The Giving Garden – Brookfield, CT
This organic vegetable garden was established in 2010. Various Master Gardeners have participated in planting, maintaining, and harvesting this teaching garden over the years. Close to 1,000 pounds of produce is harvested from the garden each year and donated to area food pantries and soup kitchens! Primary recipients of the produce include food pantries in Brookfield, Danbury, and New Milford, and the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Danbury. The garden is also used as a teaching garden for other Master Gardeners and the public. It is also frequented by area high school “key club” members who learn about sustainable practices, IPM methods, and the importance of volunteerism.
The Victory Garden – Newtown, CT
Master Gardeners are also involved with this 1/2 acre community garden that shares the bounty at the Fairfield Hills Campus. The garden started 8 years ago offers rows which are adopted by Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, Ability Beyond Disability, and other community groups. The vegetables, fruits and flowers grown are donated to the Faith Food Pantry, Nunnawauk Meadows, a low income senior housing facility, and to Newtown Social Services.